Disclaimer: Please check with your doctor before starting new treatments or supplements. Only they can tell you what is safe and appropriate for your health.
Medical marijuana is a hot topic today in the United States. Many people are convinced of its helpfulness in treating severe chronic pain. Although it may seem like using marijuana as a medicine is new, it’s use as a medicine goes back at least 5,000 years. You can learn the history of marijuana here: The History of Marijuana
Today, medical marijuana is legal in 39 states in America. Seven states allow the use of CBD oil only for medical purposes. CBD oil is made from the hemp plant and contains less than 0.3% THC. THC is the chemical that causes the high feeling in marijuana. Check Where Is Marijuana Legal? Cannabis Legality by State (February 2023 for specific information on your state.
Most doctors know very little about using marijuana as a medical treatment. Because marijuana has been illegal, there are few studies on its use to treat medical conditions. So this is definitely an area where you have to educate yourself before adding marijuana to your pain control tool kit.
Medical Marijuana and Pain
A Google search for marijuana and pain generally brings up information that marijuana helps people with chronic pain. However, checking the facts of stated statistics in these articles is challenging. For example,
According to the AARP article, What Medical Marijuana Works For,
“In gold-standard randomized clinical trials of people who had agonizing health concerns — peripheral neuropathy (nerve pain from diabetes), spinal cord injury, HIV or complex regional pain syndrome, cancer, chemotherapy, muscle and joint problems, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis — cannabis reduced pain by 40 percent, according to the 2017 NASEM report.”Sari Harrar, AARP
I haven’t been able to verify the “40%” statistic in this quote. No verifying sources were given in this AARP article. However, according to a news release prepared by the National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM),
“The committee found evidence to support that patients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids were more likely to experience a significant reduction in pain symptoms. For adults with multiple sclerosis-related muscle spasms, there was substantial evidence that short-term use of certain “oral cannabinoids”–man-made, cannabinoid-based medications that are orally ingested–improved their symptoms. In adults with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, there was conclusive evidence that certain oral cannabinoids were effective in preventing and treating those ailments.”NASEM, January 12, 2017
Perhaps the 40% pain reduction number came from one of the studies included in the NASEM 2017 report, but I cannot find it. Also, this study used “man-made cannabinoid-based medications.” did they use medical marijuana from marijuana dispensaries or something else?
For example, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and weight loss from HIV can be treated with a marijuana based drug called Marinol. Perhaps this is the drug used in the above study.
How these studies were done affects how we interpret their results. So take statistics about how well marijuana works with some skepticism, especially if details are not available.
Conditions That Might Benefit From Medical Marijuana
According to the Mayo Clinic’s article Medical Marijuana, “Depending on the state (you live in), you may qualify for treatment with medical marijuana if you meet certain requirements and have a qualifying condition, such as:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- Crohn’s disease
- Epilepsy and seizures
- Multiple sclerosis and muscle spasms
- Severe and chronic pain
- Severe nausea or vomiting caused by cancer treatment”
Drug Interactions & Marijuana
Now to the cautions about marijuana use. While it appears that medical marijuana or cannabis is known to be useful for chronic pain control and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV), we have been led to believe that using marijuana for pain control is free of any side effects. This isn’t true. Just like any other supplement or drug we have to be careful to check it out before adding it to our list of medications/supplements. For example, it does interact with many medications.
Medicines that interact with cannabis cover the range of allergy meds, sleeping pills, medications used for mental health problems, blood thinners, and heart medication plus. Check out this article to see if marijuana interacts with your medication.
List Of Drugs That Interact With Marijuana (Cannabis)
Side Effects of Using Marijuana
Next, are the possible side effects of using marijuana.
According to Cannabis (Marijuana) Drug Facts, the following side effects have occurred:
- Breathing problems from smoking or vaping
- Rapid heart rate which can increase the risk of a heart attack
- Problems with babies whose mothers used marijuana: marijuana use during pregnancy is linked to lower birth weight10 and increased risk of both brain and behavioral problems in babies.
- Intense episodes of nausea and vomiting (Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome)
- Mental Health symptoms: temporary hallucinations or paranoia, worsening of anxiety or depression, increased thoughts of suicide, and/or worsening mental health condition symptoms.
- Over consumption of high THC edibles can cause “extreme psychotic reactions” requiring ER assistance.
- Between 9 and 30 percent of those who use marijuana may develop some degree of marijuana use disorder.25
- Marijuana use impairs one’s ability to drive or operate heavy equipment safely.
Cannabis hyperemesis syndrome
People who use cannabis or marijuana once a week or more often may develop a condition that causes reoccurring episodes of nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain that can lead to dehydration. “Hyperemesis means severe vomiting.” This condition is the cause of about 6% of emergency room visits for severe nausea and vomiting according to the Cleveland Clinic article Cannabis hyperemesis syndrome.
I have a family member who was using multiple daily doses of a concentrated form of marijuana for fibromyalgia pain. This family member began experiencing episodes of severe nausea/vomiting and abdominal pain.
He saw a gastroenterologist and had extensive testing done to figure out why he was having these symptoms. No cause for his GI symptoms was found. His GI doctor never asked him about marijuana use.
Some doctors think that marijuana slows down how fast your stomach processes food, and when food hangs around too long in the stomach, vomiting occurs. Is Your Marijuana Use Causing Your Vomiting Problems?
If you or someone you know uses medical marijuana and is having these symptoms, the marijuana may be the cause. This can be hard to figure out if the person started using cannabis to help with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. The only cure for this condition is to quit using marijuana.
Next, be aware if you decide to stop using medical marijuana, or are hospitalized and cannot use it, there is the possibility that you will suffer withdrawal symptoms.
“Marijuana dependence and withdrawal have been a topic of controversy for years. However, research studies, strongly suggest the presence of withdrawal symptoms in chronic and heavy marijuana users.”5, 8Cassandra Keuma, American Addiction Centers
Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Insomnia or sleep disturbance
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
- Change in appetite
- Cravings for marijuana
- Elevated heart rate
- Nausea and vomiting
There are no current treatments for marijuana withdrawal other than supportive care. Symptoms can last for 3 weeks.
Factors that affect marijuana withdrawal symptoms
“Each person will react to marijuana withdrawal differently. One person may experience severe withdrawal symptoms for weeks, while another may not have any symptoms at all. Factors that may affect marijuana withdrawal timeline include:8
- How long a person has used marijuana.
- How much marijuana do they use?
- How often do they use marijuana?
- Polysubstance use. (Are they using other illegal drugs or taking medications?)
- Co-occurring disorders like depression or anxiety.
- Physical health.
- Pre-existing medical complications.”
In case you think that it’s not possible to get addicted to marijuana, a close relative of mine was using high THC medical marijuana solution many times a day for fibromyalgia and back spasm pain. He was admitted to the hospital recently because he was suicidal. He experienced very high heart rate and blood pressure, lightheadedness, severe nausea and vomiting, profuse sweating, and intense panic attacks. One month after stopping marijuana he still has episodes of nausea, and sweating. See Update. Consider yourself warned that withdrawal symptoms can occur.
Update: We recently found out that my relative’s symptoms were made worse by suddenly stopping an anti-psychotic medication at the same time as stopping the marijuana.
Wrap-Up of Medical Marijuana
Finally, if you want to try medical marijuana, do your research first. Determine if it’s legal in your state and the process to be able to purchase it. Carefully consider the information in this post and consult with your doctor or pain clinic. I hope this info will help you weigh the benefits and risks to make a wise decision.
If you like to read medical literature, click on the following article: Medicinal and Recreational Marijuana: Review of the Literature and Recommendations for the Plastic Surgeon
Other posts about managing chronic pain are available on this blog. Check out the posts here: https://www.upbeatliving.net/category/chronic-pain/
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